Boston Driver’s Notebook 3/15/11

18 03 2011

This morning I drove to Chinatown.  The Museum of Science bridge is temporarily one-way, the wrong way.  I went down my street, took a right, went a half-block, which took longer than you might think.  Took another right, went a block, took another right, went a quarter block.  Took a left, went up a hill, took a right.  Then it was on to the McGrath Highway, known to me as the McRoadRage Highway.  I have my own name for things.
There was intense competition to get on to Rt. 93 South.

Before Things Became Even Worse

There was a stopped line of traffic from McRoadRage Eastbound.  We from the West had a semi-open lane.  I find it’s best to drive up diffidently, and slow incrementally as you approach the stalled angry lane of long-suffering commuters.  It’s the Norman Vincent Peale approach.
Then one must move alongside the stalled lane as it inches forward, slowly approaching the intra-on-ramp merge in a friendly off-hand way, until some kind soul has the largess to let you in.
This approach only works if there is no self-entitled caffeine-deranged achiever behind you, who will be completely unaware of the selfish benefits of good will, and who will take your kindness as spineless liberal weakness; take it personally as an affront to his pathetic, tiny manhood.   He will jam up behind you and spook the whole crowd into clenching up on their space in traffic.  It only takes one.
I got off at the South Station exit.  I was planning to get a spot on Kneeland Street, but there was no one parked at the meters on the Central Artery.  I parked in the front row before the Bus Stop.  I locked up and fed the meters, that had shrunk to 12 minutes per quarter.  The government is stealing our minutes.

Before leaving, I grabbed the little Toyota crown that was an oddball anti-theft key.  No one but a Toyota-trained joy rider would even know it existed.  One of the blue Diplomats had been stolen from Chinatown, and I wasn’t taking chances.

Sovereign Ruler... of your Mass-Produced Mini-Truck

I went to Nam Pai on the seventh floor, in the very slow elevator.  I worked on some two-person fighting forms with The Big Michael, Tai Chi and Shaolin weapons.  Also present in the vast space was a Chinese guy who I had met before, who practiced a quite good Wu Style Tai Chi.  He was modest and quiet, like most good Tai Chi adherents.

Nam Pai, Chinatown Boston

A bean-sprouty white guy and two bean-sprouty white women suddenly popped out of a side door, near where I was standing, between the boxing ring and the windows.  They began milling around where I was warming up, so I moved away.  The pale, thin white man began showing the women some feckless chi gung.   He was chattering incessantly, like most weak chi gung teachers trying to cover for a lack of knowledge and ability.  He was the student of a famous local Chinese faith healer, who claimed to be able to cure cancer by tapping on a doll with a rubber mallet.

I deployed my small personal music device.

I'd Tap That

The Magic Healer claimed to have been taught by Ancient Chinese Monks at an Ancient Chinese Temple.  We remembered when he was a local waiter, and the Big Michael’s completely unremarkable junior classmate under Lo Man Bui, a distinguished Praying Mantis master.  “He was one of the guys who gets magically pushed by Gin Soon,” said Michael.  “The most convincing floppers get promoted first.”

Gin Soon is a local Tai Chi Teacher who holds an actual lineage and has abilities, but for some reason feels the need to practice Miracle Pushing, ‘for safety’ only on his own students.   Without touching the flopper, he can send him flying through the air.  Mike calls them “floppers,” but I prefer the term “flung.”  It makes sense that the Magic Healer would have been one of the Miracle Pusher’s star flungs.

The Magic Healer had learned acupuncture from his wife, and had somehow obtained a Mass license.  The medical community was looking into his claims of curing cancer, and his interference with the treatment strategies of truly ill people.  Hastening their demise.

Dr. So The Book

I had learned Tai Chi from 3 different grandmasters, and studied Acupuncture for 20 years under Dr. So, so it was a little raw to see a guy raking in cash with such a pathetic, negligible, trumped-up skill set.  When they can’t produce results, it gives us all a bad name.  Li Fan Fung Sifu, the Martial Hero of Southern China, had died with only brandy and gambling money in his pocket, cigarettes too.

What a Real Grandmaster Looks Like

Mike said that the bean sprout disciple teaching there today was an actual medical doctor.  “What he’s doing studying with that clown, I have no idea.”

Back on the street, I said hi to Johnny Chu, Mike’s si hing (elder brother) under Lo Sifu, who was on his phone, near the Chinese chess players.  I went back to my truck just as the last minute ticked off the meter.  I put in a couple more quarters for 24 minutes, and went off to order lunch and buy some incense.  I got back to the truck, still without a parking ticket, and replaced the little anti-theft crown.  It was almost noon, time to think about heading to work.  I had some Buddhist temple incense and a roast duck and roast pork rice plate from Little Hong Kong, which is owned by Johnny Chu, coincidentally.

Driving: Enabled

Taking the Central Artery across Kneeland Street, I followed the sign to Rt. 93, but kept right onto Albany St.  I went past the Flower Exchange, or whatever it’s called, and Boston City Hospital.  I crossed over Mass Ave, still on Albany St, and took a right on Melnea Cass Blvd.  I was having trouble getting over into the left lane, but finally zoomed out in front of everybody at the light on Washington St., where the lavish left turn lane takes you into the labyrinthine Dudley Square.  I wanted the next turn onto Harrison Ave, which takes you through the upscale Orchard Park housing projects.  There is no left-turn lane onto Harrison, and all the people I just cut in front of had to change lanes to go around me.

Orchard Park

I made the turn, and immediately had a car that had been waiting at the curb accelerate rapidly out in front of me, only to then slow back down to a snail’s pace, as the driver dialed his obligatory phone call.  He slowed even further once the call went through.  It was two lanes, going one-way, and he drove slowly down the dead center of the road.  Not maliciously, I was sure, just alone in a world of one.  I pulled to the right, and he unconsciously tracked to the right in front of me.  Then I faked left, and as he drifted left, I ran for daylight up the right side.  Then it was over Fort Hill to Washington St and the posh Bromley-Heath projects.

Lock the Doors

I got to the falling-apart house, and painted the soffit that Power Dave and I had installed back last October when he was alive.  I saw Mushroom Man Benjamin, and pressed him some more about clearing off the upper porch.  It was full of empty, crumbling joint compound buckets of soil, and unpainted wooden furniture that was turning into driftwood.  I wanted everything off the deck so we could have a work area, but he wanted me to move the junk around as I worked.  That was not going to be possible.
By and by, it was getting to be full-on rush hour, so I headed out on the slow route, through Brookline Village.

Brookline not Brooklyn

I had just run into a long line of stalled traffic when I noticed that my truck was smoking quite a bit, and running fast and noisy.  This is not the kind of thing one wants while inching along in heavy traffic.  I thought I might have blown a piston ring, but then caught a sweet smoke smell, which made me wonder if it was coolant.  Which could mean a cracked cylinder head or head gasket.

Life is but a Poor Player

The smoke and noise continued as I crawled across the B.U. Bridge and through Central Square Cambridge, at less than walking speed.  I think Shakespeare said it best in the Scottish play, “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow, creeps in this petty pace from day to day, to the last syllable of recorded time.”

I seemed agitated by the time I got back.

Losing It

Obviously it was time to change the oil again, for starters.  I was running a detergent mix of 10W30 and two quarts of Marvel Mystery Oil, which could have accounted for the smoking by itself.  I ran over to the Advance Auto store next to Target, and they had gallons of my favorite oil on sale.  I bought two gallons of what I thought was 10W30.  Car people love to argue about oil, but I had been trying to get with the trend toward lighter-weight oils.  The technology is said to have improved to the point where this is advisable.  I brought the gallons up to the nice Irish/Italian-looking cashier.  She asked if that was all, and I said, “Well I was here the other day looking for the plastic part that holds the windshield wiper onto the wiper arm.  Mine broke.  I guess I could buy a new wiper blade…”

Plan B: Repair Old Thrab

There was no one waiting, so she was nice enough to go look for the box of spare wiper parts that the friendly, large black guy had found earlier in the week.  It had been raining, so I thought the parts situation might have improved.  She found the box, and began to dig through it.  Sure enough, she found one of the antiquated plastic thrabs in short order.  Women search more thoroughly than men, I find.  Then she said, “OK, let me see if I can find another one for you.”
“I like how you think,” I said.  The old machinist’s rule: ‘Three is two, two is one, one is none.’  She found me another one, and wouldn’t take any money.  She rang up the oil, discovering that one was 15W40, so I went to switch the heavier oil, but the 10W30 was out of stock.  I went back to the register, and by now a crowd of impatient people had materialized and was on the verge of getting ugly.
“It doesn’t matter about the oil, I’ll take the heavyweight.  We’re still victorious.”  The impatient junior Yuppies fretting at the parts counter could just hang for a few minutes.
She was a good parts person.

Heavy Duty

I went back and changed into good clothes so I could sit in a coffee shop and write.  ‘I’ll just start the oil draining, and come back later,’ I thought.  Then I was lying in the street in my good clothes taking out the oil drain plug.  While I was there in the dirty gutter, I noticed that the lower radiator hose clamp had fragged and was hanging loosely from the radiator hose.  “I don’t know but what this here might not be the problem,” I said to myself.
‘We can dress you up but we can’t take you out,’I continued, and giggled at my own joke.  I was all covered in months of unswept road crud.

Radiator Hose Clamp

I went inside and looked for a big hose clamp.  I found one and unsecured the end so I could feed it around the radiator hose without taking the hose off and perforce draining the radiator. The 4WD brush guard under the motor kept me from being able to use both hands, so I used my left ring finger, and my right index and middle fingers to start the worm screw engaging the free end of the clamp.  After a long time, I got it hooked up.  It’s always been my aim in car repair to skip the multiple preliminary attempts, and to go directly to accomplishing the task.  So far it hasn’t worked out.
The truck’s dedicated screwdriver is a reversible one that has a double-ended shaft.  I took the shaft out of the handle and used the slotted end to tighten the hose clamp.  It felt like it took a hundred turns to get it finger tight.  Then I engaged the handle, and just tightened it as much as I could in the awkward position, without really trying to see how it looked.

More Than Twice as Good as Fram

I replaced the oil drain plug, and just poured in the heavyweight oil.  I was re-using the K&N filter, which was less than a month old.  The quart of oil left in the filter would be the fifth quart when I added the gallon, and would thin it out nicely, being half Marvel Mystery oil.
I was out of antifreeze, so I added a quart of water, and it filled up the radiator.
It was getting dark as I attached the new wiper blade thrab, and clicked in the blade.
The next day was raining, and I had to drive to Woburn and drop off some yard waste.  At one point, in the Winter Hill neighborhood, I stopped for an oblivious youth wandering across the road while making a phone call.  Another youth who was talking on a cellphone, drove around the corner at us at a high rate of speed.  He may have noticed me stopped in the road, and saw the other idiot child in time to avoid running him down.

Natural selection thwarted again.

We'll Get You Next Time

The truck ran quietly and smoothly, without a puff of smoke, and the windshield wipers wiped rain off the windshield wonderfully.

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